Are You Ignoring Your Real Customer's Buying Behavior?

by Jeannie Walters

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My sister remembers when the “fancy” mall opened in our hometown. She and my mom would dress up to go. By the time I was ready to hang out at the mall, I trudged from one store to the next in jeans or even (oh goodness) sweat pants. After the novelty wore off, customers came as they were – on their own terms. No amount of well-polished marble could compensate for the need to rush into the mall to grab something on the way home from a babysitting gig. My “customer buying behavior” was far from fancy, even though the mall wanted me to believe otherwise.

customer buying behaviorThese last few decades have been dominated with the introduction of technology into the shopping experience. Online shopping helped customers find the things they needed from the comfort of home. Mobile comparison shopping caused those big box retailers such heartache! How dare you use our store as a showroom? They dare because they can. They are your customers and they will shop on their terms and not yours, thank you very much.

In his classic book, Why We Buy, Paco Underhill describes watching husbands and wives buying the same men’s underwear. It was a surprising observation – women were buying products not intended for them because they worked better for their needs. Customers are constantly changing the game and doing what works for them. For years, women would buy the “men’s” version of a facial moisturizer at a fancy cosmetic counter. The reason? It came in a plastic bottle that was lighter, easier to toss into luggage, and wouldn’t shatter into a zillion pieces in a tiled bathroom like the glass “women’s” version. It was also much less expensive for more actual product. It took years for that cosmetics company to offer a plastic bottle to women. They were ignoring their actual customer’s buying behavior and they were deciding what to offer by what was best for the company. Fancy bottle = more expensive = more profit. The theory was incorrect, and the customers were telling them this through their actions. But because the front-line sales people had no way to translate this feedback into real action, it was ignored.

Like it or not, customers shop on their terms. Ironically, you probably already know what these terms are because we all intuitively know “what’s right” as customers. Those brilliant AT&T “It’s Not Complicated” commercials show this with the kids answering questions like “what’s better: fast or slow?”  Fast is of course the universal answer.

Hotels that don’t offer free wifi are losing those fees to cellular companies, and frustrating their customers in the process. Customers are willing to carry their own hotspots for security and ease, along with just refusing to participate in what they feel is an unfair policy on principal. Forcing guests to pay hotel fees (separate for each device) to connect to spotty wifi basically defines ignoring what customers want and need.

How are you ignoring your customer? Buying behavior evolves with time and expectations, and yet too often the actual experience does not. What if you considered your customer’s viewpoint and created experiences on their terms? If you are forcing your terms, your customers will defect to someone who respects theirs. In the latest example, JCPenney changed the terms with their customers so dramatically and so quickly their customers decided to defect. Most likely, 80% of your revenue will come from your current customers, according to Gartner. Don’t give your 80% away by ignoring their needs.

This article was written for and a version was first posted on Sensei Blogs.

Photo credit: alist via Creative Commons license

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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